BY NAJLA M. SHAHWAN
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warned recently against the “Halevi” draft bill, which the right-wing Likud Party Knesset member Amit Halevi will present to the Israeli Knesset. The bill aims to impose temporal and dangerous division in the Temple Mount complex, which contains the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting held in Ramallah, the prime minister said, “Taking such a step would cause overwhelming anger whose results cannot be expected, given the sanctity and religious value of Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Palestinian people, Arabs and Muslims.”
According to the “Amit Halevi” bill, Muslims would be given the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the southern section of the compound, while the Jews would receive the central and northern parts, including the Dome of the Rock.
Halevi also seeks to change the access procedures for Israeli settlers storming Al-Aqsa, by demanding that settlers be allowed to enter the complex through all gates, rather than only through the southwestern Moroccan Gate, which is the only gate out of the mosque’s 15 entry points under the full control of Israeli authorities and which no Palestinians can access.
Besides, Halevi has also proposed that Jordan’s role as custodian of both the Muslim and Christian holy places in the occupied Palestinian city of al-Quds be replaced with Israeli authority.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is in Jerusalem’s Old City, which sits in the eastern Palestinian side of Jerusalem.
Jews refer to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound as the “Temple Mount” and some believe that it is where the first and second ancient Jewish temples once stood.
Despite international law prohibiting the annexation and continued Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, Israel has claimed sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, but the claims are considered unlawful and have not been recognized by the majority of the world’s countries.
Under agreements with Jordan, security and administration inside the compound were managed by the Jordanian Waqf (Islamic endowments authority). Meanwhile, Israel was responsible for security around the compound, facilitating the entry of non-Muslim visitors in coordination with the Waqf and abiding by Jordan’s rules to ban Jewish hardline groups it considered provocative.
Non-Muslim prayer at the mosque is banned, as it has been for centuries. Over the past three decades, Israel has enforced greater control over the site, including by controlling who enters and exits, restricting Palestinian access, conducting violent raids inside and increasingly facilitating the entry of Jewish hardline groups who, since 1967, have publicly stated their aim to take over the compound, destroy the Dome of the Rock, and build a third temple there.
Al-Aqsa is internationally agreed upon as a Muslim holy site, where Muslims have the right to worship and others may enter as visitors respecting the sanctity of the site. This is the status quo, applied at the Al Aqsa holy site that lies in an internationally recognized occupied territory. Besides, Al-Aqsa is not only revered by Muslims across the globe but has also become symbolic of Palestinian culture and existence.
To divide and share Al-Aqsa Mosque violates international law as the United Nations Security Council Resolution 271 on the protection of Al-Aqsa “recognizes that any act of destruction or profanation of the Holy Places, religious buildings and sites in Jerusalem or any encouragement of, or connivance at, any such act may seriously endanger international peace and security.”
Over the past years, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has witnessed a sharp rise in Israeli attacks protecting settlers storming the compound and performing rituals there in violation of the status quo.
Last April, Israeli forces assaulted Palestinian Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in an effort to make way for groups of ultranationalist Jews entering the site under police protection. As Palestinian Muslims gathered for Ramadan prayers exercising their right to worship in Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israeli authorities used blatantly excessive and unjustified force against them. At least 31 Palestinians were reportedly injured inside and immediately outside the compound, while paramedics were allegedly prevented from providing medical treatment to the wounded.
According to initial accounts, Israeli forces violently entered Al-Aqsa Mosque, used stun grenades and tear gas, fired sponge-tipped bullets, and indiscriminately beat Muslim worshippers – including elderly people and women – with batons and rifle butts. At least 450 Palestinian men were reportedly arrested, and some were kicked and slapped by escorting soldiers as they were led out of the Haram Al-Sharif compound in handcuffs.
On her part, U.N. expert Albanese deplored the “reckless and unlawful” actions of Israeli forces, which reportedly allowed some 165 Jewish Israelis to enter the compound, in violation of the Status Quo Agreement, which Israel is bound to respect.
“The well-known desire of Israeli settlers to either destroy the mosque or forcibly convert all or part of the compound into a synagogue, as happened to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, is a source of deep anxiety among Palestinians,” she said.
The special rapporteur noted that similar violence took place during the holy month of Ramadan in 2021 and 2022, adding to the daily violence under Israeli occupation.
“Over the years, Israel has not ceased its violent attacks against Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in violation of international law,” the expert said, calling on the international community to step up efforts to hold the occupying power accountable for its unacceptable behavior in the occupied territory before the situation spirals further out of control.
For her part, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and the northern regional director, said: “These orchestrated attacks demonstrate just how far Israeli authorities will go to maintain their cruel system of apartheid. Shocking footage from the past two days shows Israeli security forces beating men, women and children, and dragging them out of the mosque where they had gathered to spend the night in peaceful prayer and reflection. Once again, Israeli security forces have shown the world what apartheid looks like.”
Since 2015, Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan in Netanyahu’s government lifted some of the restrictions on Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa. Later on, the government of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett endorsed “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”
However, small groups of Jews have been quietly praying at the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, regularly since 2019, with Israel police ignoring the practice.
Today with Netanyahu’s far right-wing government, hardliners publicly proclaim Al-Aqsa should be treated as a Jewish holy site rather than an exclusively Muslim site of worship.
Besides they aim to eradicate the internationally agreed status quo at Al-Aqsa and to end the Islamic Waqf’s authority as the official caretaker of Muslim holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem and hope to extinguish the site’s significance as a sovereign space reflecting Palestinian identity in Jerusalem.
Today, most Jewish visitors are allowed to perform prayers inside Al-Aqsa. The number of Jewish visitors who enter Al-Aqsa has increased from fewer than 2,000 a decade ago to 50,000 a year.
Palestinians are concerned that the plan represents only the beginning of a large and dangerous project, an attack on the last-standing symbol of the axis to Palestinian identity in occupied Jerusalem.
Palestinians have already painfully experienced the Israeli authorities’ division of the Muslim holy site in Hebron’s Al-Ibrahimi Mosque. When in 1994 after Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, the Israeli government divided the Ibrahimi Mosque, with Muslim access reduced from the entire space to around 40% of the site.
The other 60% was allocated to Jewish worshippers, who accessed the site from a separate entrance.
Palestinians realize that a de-facto division of time and space is taking place at Al-Aqsa, as Israeli forces undertake the task of emptying Al-Aqsa of its Muslim worshippers, to favor Jewish worshippers to enter the mosque and perform their own prayers at the Muslim site of worship.
Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have been facing an assault on their existence since the city fell under Israeli occupation in 1967.
Not only is their physical existence in this city under constant threat, but the vestiges of their culture and identity are also under constant danger.
The current plan is a direct result of Israeli impunity and the international community’s failure to move beyond mere condemnation of Israel’s violations of the most basic human rights of the occupied Palestinian population.
Changing the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque is a war on all Muslims and on Palestine’s religious, cultural, historical identity and physical presence.
Source: The Daily Sabah